Employee Assistance Programmes
Are EAPs getting back to basics? Everyday wellbeing, not crises
Vanessa Sallows, Claims and Governance Director for Legal & General Group Protection, looks at 5 ways to make your EAP work smarter.
Ever since Case Law determined almost a decade ago that having an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place would help tick the employee Duty of Care box1, sales – whether embedded or standalone – have sky-rocketed to the point where now close to half of the UK workforce has access to an EAP.2
At the same time though, their value has become a bit lost, leaving the service open to criticism, thanks to the misguided perception that they represent a fix-all to every mental health problem. Now, anecdotal evidence suggests that many GPs – along with Line Managers and Mental Health First Aiders – are signposting to employer-provided EAP services for everything from anxiety to long-term depression and MH crisis situations.
Educating everyone concerned on how to use EAPs in the way originally intended is key; namely, everyday solution-focused support and only a first port of call for anything more serious, not the full solution.
5 ways to make your EAP work smarter
- Consider calling it something else. The term ‘Employee Assistance Programme’ is not very helpful as it is generic in nature and begs the question “Assistance with what?”. It also doesn’t help in reassuring employees about privacy and confidentiality. We carried out research last year amongst UK SME employees and found that of those who didn’t think EAPs were relevant to their health, wealth and happiness, one in five (19%) cited privacy concerns as a barrier to usage. In other words, they were concerned that their employer may get to know too much about their health or private life.3 To help counter this issue and improve its EAP usage, care and support service provider National Care Group – one of our Not A Red Card Award entrants last year – changed the service name to ‘Confidential Advice Line’ and saw a 200% increase in usage.
- Integrate it into wider wellbeing. Employee benefits products and wellbeing agendas will often sit apart in organisations, yet the outcomes are so much stronger if they were integrated. Prevention, early intervention, and back to work support arguably apply as much to Occupational Health, Vocational Rehabilitation, Health & Safety as they do to HR in terms of people policies, practices and wellbeing services via group income protection and healthcare products (think EAPs alongside perhaps long-COVID support, health checks, virtual GPs etc). There are also usually some useful support services for Line Managers. Companies really are now believing in wellbeing, but in some companies it can be limited to an isolated programme focused on initiatives such as social events, fitness challenges and healthy food and snacks in the canteen. All have their place, but in a world where employee wellbeing is now a Board level imperative and where the value of investment needs to be realised, integration is crucial.
- Communicate it better. It’s gradually becoming understood that traditional one-size fits all employee communication simply doesn’t work. Something is better than nothing, but to be effective, communications need to be planned and informed by employee insight, looking at benefits and wellbeing in an integrated way and tailoring channels and messages according to where and how various groups within the workforce like to obtain their information (think of employees as customers).
- Use real-life stories. Humans like to hear about other humans. We take notice of the people around us; their stresses, strains and coping mechanisms. So, as well as tailoring communication, consider taking a much more human-centric approach that ‘connects’. This is necessary both to help equip people to make their own decisions on what’s good for their very personal health and happiness needs, and also to ensure that support services such as the EAP are seen as relevant and, therefore, used and valued.
- Don’t medicalise normal stress reactions. For example, anxiety related to the pandemic and reintegration back into daily life; and, specifically now as furlough ends, anxiety related to financial circumstances and potential job loss. An EAP is perfectly placed to help with such ‘normal’ and temporary reactions to circumstances. These issues are distinct from mental illness, such as clinical depression or generalised anxiety disorder, which require diagnosis and management under medical supervision.
EAP usage data shows that making your EAP work smarter pays off. For example, the main reasons people used our EAP were for help and advice about work, relationships, consumer issues and childcare, while the online portal’s top hits were pages related to everyday issues.
Between May 2020 and April 2021, the portal had 65,372 visits; of the top 20 most viewed pages, more than half were for help and advice on everyday issues, including stress, family and relationships, and to access to tools like webinars, mini-assessments and health checks.
So, with healthcare services still under significant pressure due to the pandemic and while financial uncertainties abound, it could pay to consider an EAP the cornerstone of your integrated benefit and wellbeing programme. After all, chances are you’ve already got one in place. Now is the time to get smart.
1 Croner-i, Sutherland v Hatton and others (2002) February 5, Court of Appeal.
3 Legal & General Wellbeing at Work Barometer; research carried out by Opinium among 1,087 employees with access to group protection, December 2020.
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